“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:11–14 NIV11)
This account of Paul confronting Peter, we see another ugly side of religion, and that is Sectarianism.
Sectarianism is a form of prejudice, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group. It can be found in religion, ethnicity and pollical parties.
“Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. Galatians 2:12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” (Galatians 2:11–12 ESV)
Religion can create Fear, and it has the power to intimidate.
Fear and intimidation are two powerful principles that feed Sectarianism.
Paul is not afraid of confronting Peter in his hypocrisy and sectarian attitudes. Interestingly, Paul can discern a sectarian mindset as he recognised what at one point in his life was ruled by racism and sectarian attitudes. Now, he sees Peter failing in distinguishing the attitudes of his heart.
Paul realises that Peter was becoming very uncomfortable with the fact that some men came from James the Apostle to Antioch, where Paul and Peter were ministering among the gentiles.
Before these men came, Peter was eating with Gentiles. But, to eat with a gentile was a big no and a barrier that separated them. It is to become unclean!! This idea was drilled into the mindset of every Jew, this was part of the food laws, and it required certain ceremonies of cleansing.
Yet we read in Acts 11 that Peter has a vision from the Lord where the Lord tells him to kill and eat unclean animals declaring therefore that there are no unclean animals, there are no contaminated foods. Most importantly, now, every man and woman can come to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Why is it that Peter, (after experiencing a heavenly vision) is now afraid of the circumcision group that came from the Jerusalem Church?
I believe he was afraid of breaking the law, but also he was more fearful of trying not to offend the men that came from James.
In other words, without saying it or maybe they said it: “Peter you are Jew and why are you eating with the unclean, gentiles, have you forgotten who you are?
That is the big issue: “have you forgotten who you are”!! We don’t mix, and we don’t eat with unclean Gentiles, it is written in our laws, and it is what makes us different.
Can you see the conflict between the Gospel of Grace and the bad news of religion?
A sectarian heart will find its reason to exits in and when it is compared with others who are inferior to you and me. When they speak differently, look different and worship differently.
“The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:13–14 NIV)
Hypocrisy is a big word! The Cambridge dictionary defines it “as a situation in which someone pretends to believe something that they do not believe, or that is the opposite of what they do or say at another time.”
“If you don’t practice what you preach, you’re nothing more than a hypocrite.”
Was Paul saying to Peter was not practising what he preached? Yes! Did he call him false? Yes, he did!!
Paul uses the word Hypocrite to depict someone who is an evildoer or an apostate: “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2 NIV11)
This word is also used in the Old Testament to describe someone who lies, and Jesus uses the term to describe the double standards of the religious leaders. Leaders with no integrity at all this what Jesus said:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV11)
Paul rebukes Peter and those who have fallen into the trap of hypocrisy that they were not acting in line with the true Gospel! This is an exciting phrase: what does it mean not to be acting in line with the Gospel?
“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14 ESV)
Paul realised that Peter and his companions were not walking in step with the truth of the Gospel. They were walking away from the reality of the Gospel. By their actions leading the Gentile Christians away from the Gospel. This is why I have said: the Gospel is not just for salvation, but the Gospel is what sustains us, it is the truth of the Gospel that supports us to walk consistently.
What does it mean to walk in the step of the Gospel? It means to walk in step with the Spirit of God “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 NIV11)
The Greek root of the word Hypocrisy we find an interesting meaning, and I think the Passion Translation may refer to it as “Acting”. The word Hypocrite also means an Actor and in ancient Greek was someone who depicted a Poet.
For Aristotle, it is the doctrine of linguistic expression. The art of speaking is a specialised skill both on the stage and in the marketplace. Demosthenes achieves success when he takes lessons from an actor, hypókrisis embraces the delivery of a speech, including mime and gesture.
We know that an actor can interpret different roles, characters and some of them just brilliant. We know that there is a massive industry Films, TV, Theatre.
The Passion Translation says: “So when I realised they were acting inconsistently with the revelation of Grace, I confronted Peter in front of everyone: (TPT)
What I believe Paul was saying to Peter is this: “Peter why are acting out as someone who is bound to the law, but you know that now you are free from it because of the Gospel of Grace.
Why are you acting inconsistently with the revelation of Grace? Peter and friends, you have forgotten who you are!!
A Sectarian Believer is either someone who has forgotten who they are in Christ or someone who doesn’t know their true identity in Christ.
Does this happen in Church? Yes, it does!
I was in a Presbyterian Church, preaching and sharing about our ministry among the Catholic Community. At the end of the service, a man with a Bible under his arm congratulated me on my sermon and then he said to me “How glad he was and how thankful to God that we were not like them!!!”
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15–16 NIV11)
Two crucial observations are found here in these two verses.
We know that we are a superior race.
We know that we have the real revelation of God.
We know that we have the Law of God.
We know that God is on our side.
We see that it is God’s own country.
We know that we are not “Sinful” the like other pagans are.
We are different.
We eat differently.
We have the physical mark of God’s people.
We celebrate Him, who has given us the Sabbath.
We are not like them.
Second observation: The nationalistic, sectarian mindset offers nothing but divisions. What justifies us before God is faith in Jesus Christ!
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26–29 NAS95)